With one day left in the year, highway fatalities in six counties in Southwest Colorado came in at 14 for 2020, down 22% from the 18 fatalities in 2019, according to data from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Capt. Adrian Driscoll of the Colorado State Patrol said officials focused on improving highway safety on U.S. Highway 160 this year, and he was pleased no 2020 fatalities occurred on 160 in Montezuma, La Plata and Archuleta counties in 2020.
He was especially pleased that no fatalities occurred anywhere in Archuleta County this year.
The State Patrol is getting data faster about traffic patterns and infractions, and it is helping to assign geographic coverage areas for troopers during daily patrols, he said.
“We’ve really used data this year like we haven’t before. We’re getting data more quickly, almost real-time data. Up in our headquarters we’ve created a sort of vehicular crimes analysis unit,” Driscoll said.
The mere presence of a trooper’s vehicle in an area encourages safer driving, and using data to place troopers should help minimize all vehicular violations, including those leading to fatalities, Driscoll said.
“It’s helpful in putting limited resources where they’re needed most,” he said. “U.S. 160 has been a problem area historically, and we haven’t had a fatality on 160 this year, and I think part of it is because we really saturated 160. Part of the equation is just planning based on where things have been happening, and putting our resources there. And I think we’ve done a much better job of that this year.”
Driscoll said data analysis is getting faster, and use of data to help direct patrols will only get better.
For 2020, Driscoll said 60% of highway fatals in his region – Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, and portions of Hinsdale and Mineral counties – involved impaired drivers and 55% involved people who were not wearing seat belts.
Those percentages have stayed fairly steady through the years.
“We’re still having a problem with impaired driving and seat belt usage. Those numbers are about what we’ve seen through the years, so we really want to stress that you don’t drink and drive – and wear your seat belt,” he said.
Despite public relations campaigns in traditional media and the addition of social media campaigns, the percentage of impaired drivers and people who were not wearing seat belts involved in fatal crashes has remained fairly constant for years, Driscoll said.
Fatality data is also used by CDOT.
Jennifer Allison, CDOT traffic and safety resident engineer, said the agency takes a data-based approach to help fund improvements and determine problem areas on highways.
Besides fatalities, CDOT looks at property-damage crashes and all injury crashes.
“The crash data not only helps CDOT pinpoint areas of need on highways, the data also provides metrics to help justify the need for improvements in order to obtain funding for the necessary design and construction,” Allison said.
CDOT data is based on incident reports from State Patrol troopers and includes location, number of vehicles, lighting conditions, road conditions, weather conditions and condition of the driver.
“All this data allows CDOT to check for crash patterns. Crash patterns can help determine if any safety measures can be applied on the highway to reduce or mitigate the pattern,” Allison said.
One example of highway crash data guiding improvements is the placement of wildlife warning signs or installation of deer fencing and other mitigation measures such as animal overpasses and underpasses, based on the number of animal-vehicle collisions, she said.